Palestine copes with crisis

EAST PALESTINE – Two water wells shut down early Saturday in the village are working again, but residents should still conserve water until the plant system is back to normal.

Water and wastewater foreman John Jurjavcic said the wells are not working at full capacity and a boil order remains in effect. The plant’s third well is out of service for a rehabilitation.

“There are still people without water. We are trying to get water to the system. We just need people to (conserve) until we get the system restored … the reservoirs are still down,” he said.

The village shut down the wells to conserve the water supply after noticing low levels early Saturday. The reservoirs began losing water earlier in the week when sub-zero degree temperatures caused several waterline leaks throughout town.

“We’ve got one pump pushing water into the system. We just have to try to balance the pumping so we don’t deplete the system again,” he said.

Jurjavcic and his crew, McKay and Gould Drilling and Duncan Brothers of East Palestine worked through the night to fix the problem and during that time the village of less than 5,000 people was without water.

“(Saturday) night people went totally without water during the night,” he said.

Jurjavcic said in the near 25 years he has worked for the village this is the first time in his recollection it has been without water.

The village also opted to shut down the two wells, he said, because the screens were plugged up with sand and silt.

“We had to get that cleaned out … they finished up this morning on the one well, the other well, we have it running a little bit. We are going to wait until things get back to normal and try working on that,” he said, adding residents should be patient in the meantime.

“We want to try to get our reservoirs back up. It depends upon the levels, it depends upon the people. As long as people cooperate and are diligent the sooner we can get everything back up the way it should be,” he said.

The shutdown may have been inconvenient for residents, but it did bring the town together in some ways.

Fire Chief Brett Todd said some people who originally stopped by the station on Clark Street for water for their households ended up staying to volunteer.

“We were really busy earlier today. It’s kind of backing off a little bit now,” Todd said Sunday evening from the station, which is where residents can pick up free bottled and non-potable water.

The chief had been there since 8 that morning, working alongside firefighters, police officers and other volunteers passing out bottled water and filling up buckets with non-potable water using one of the fire trucks.

Residents brought their own buckets to the station for the non-potable water, which was being used for flushing toilets.

Todd said more than 1,000 people have showed up at the station since Saturday.

“At one point we had them lined all the way down the street … We went through 1,100 cases of bottled water,” he said.

Most people who picked up bottled water also picked up non-potable water, he added.

The water was donated by the Salem Walmart and Giant Eagle, which pitched in to help after being contacted by county Emergency Management Agency Director Luke Newbold.

A Walmart manager said the Salem store first donated four pallets of bottled water and then later provided a semi-truck load of water donated from a warehouse in Woodland, Pa.

Todd said he was contacted by the Boardman Giant Eagle and the Chippewa, Pa. store, which also sent a truckload of bottled water.

“Obviously we are very appreciative of that,” he said.

Local businesses also chipped in and brought free food for volunteers.

“We haven’t even asked anyone for it, it just kind of shows up,” he said of the donated food.

Some businesses, like Gorby’s, Sparkle Market and Dollar General, were still operating Sunday while others, like McDonald’s, Circle K and a restaurant on the west end of town were shut down, he added.

Should a fire or other emergency occur in town neighboring fire departments are already willing to help if water is not available.

“I can call about any fire department out there and they will help,” Todd said.

The water situation resulted in canceled classes today for the village school district.

Superintendent George Fisk, who was still without water at his own home in town Sunday night, said there was no water at the school buildings earlier in the day.

There was one faucet that was working in the girls’ locker room in the basement of the middle/high school , he said.

The district announced the closure through an all-call system, optional text alerts and TV notices. The leadership team is meeting at 10 a.m. today to see about what will happen Tuesday, he said.

“The city has been great. Pete (Monteleone, village manager) has been calling me a lot, keeping me up to date with what is going on,” he said.

Fisk noticed he had no water at his home shortly after the announcement on Saturday morning. The outage has not affected his family much, as they already had a stockpile of water on hand, he added.

He said people with larger families were probably really feeling the effects of the shutdown, and he thanked the businesses and people who stepped up to help.

On behalf of the water department, Jurjavcic said, “We thank everybody for helping. A lot of people have been supportive.”

When asked when full water service could be expected, he did not provide a time frame, only reiterating that residents should conserve water in the meantime.